On this day in 1958, a bridge being built to connect eastern and northern Vancouver in western Canada collapses, killing 59 workers. The bridge, known as the Second Narrows Bridge, was finally completed in 1960 and, in 1996, it was renamed Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to commemorate the people who lost their lives during its construction. The disaster was the worst involving a bridge in Canada’s history.
The bridge was being assembled by Dominion Bridge Company over the Burrard Inlet and was 175 feet above the water at its highest point. At 3:40 p.m., one of the structure’s steel spans buckled suddenly, causing the entire structure to collapse. There were 79 workers, almost a third of them painters, on the bridge at the time. Most were earning $3.85 an hour, about $25 in today’s money.
Twenty people survived the long fall, with fishermen pulling them from the water. Colin Glendinning, a worker who survived the collapse, recalled the fall, You know what I was thinking? ‘Oh God, I wish I had a parachute’ — I really did. The fall tore off Glendinning’s ear, broke his leg, and permanently damaged his lungs. He later returned to work on the bridge, only to break his other leg a year later.
A subsequent inquiry blamed the tragedy on a calculating error by one of the engineers who lost their lives in the collapse. However, some survivors believed that sub-standard construction materials were to blame.
A vigil honoring the victims is still held at the bridge every June 17.